Whoever Heard of a Birthday Cake? by D.M. Branch

After school one day, me and Gerod were walkin’ by Auntie Clem’s house and heard Ol’ blind Lester and her jawing up a storm so we decided to stop by. Everybody knowed and loved Auntie Clem. She was kin to most everybody in town. We went running right up on the porch and joined in. Well, we spoke a piece about this and that and then some other stuff.

Image: Lewis W. Hine Collection, NCLC collection, LOC, Picryl

After we had been there a spell, O’Dell showed up and commenced to talking about the birthday cake he was going to have. Cake! Well, that’s all it took. He had mine and Gerod’s attention. He said he was getting a birthday cake and it would have colored icing and something called “birthday candles”—one for every year he was alive. Me and Gerod listened with our mouths opened. You know, kind of surprised to hear all this he was saying.

Later, when we got to our house, and after Ol’ Pap calmed down from telling us just how hot the sun was while he was out doing his plowing, we asked him if he had ever heard of such a thing called a birthday cake. He declared he hadn’t and it was just a thing city folks done, but it weren’t for us. He told me I would be gettin’ my usual orange for my birthday. Them oranges were powerful good, and we didn’t get ‘em but on our birthdays ‘cause they didn’t grow around here. Had to go all the way to town and buy ‘em.

Image: amandascookin.com

After all the talkin’ we did about this birthday cake, I decided I wanted me one, and, with much doings, it finally happened. The grand day of August 12, 1918 had arrived! I looked and saw my very own first ever birthday cake. I loved it, even if it was cooked in a cast iron skillet ‘cause we didn’t have something called a “cake pan.” The icing wasn’t some strange red or blue color like O’Dell said his cake was going to have. It was the normal white color, just like I had seen at all the church eatins. Well, Ol’ Pap was kind of sore, or maybe even a little hurt, ‘cause he thought his birthday present of an orange weren’t good enough, but he went along with the birthday cake thing.

Some of my friends walked over to see such a sight. O’Dell said you had to put candles on it to make it done right. So, we did. Mine had candles from Henry’s Hardware Store on it. They were four big white ones, just like the ones we used at night. Henry didn’t know that the number of candles was supposed to match how many years you had been livin’. Well, I thought, I ain’t complaining after all the doings I went through to get this cake.

Image: Tim Schmidbauer, Unsplash

After we sung a song called “Happy Birthday to You,” we lit them candles, and, just when I was getting ready to blow ‘em out, that’s when I heard . . . Ahh . . . Ahh . . . Ahh-Choo! I looked up just in time to see Auntie Clem’s store-bought teeth fly out of her mouth and land right smack dab in the middle of my birthday cake. Good thing she didn’t have her normal pinch of snuff tucked behind her bottom lip. I was so stunned I didn’t know what to do. About that time, Ol’ Pap walked by, handed me my orange, grinned real big, and walked out the door.


I am a born and raised Tennessean. I’ve lived all my life somewhere between Knoxville and Sevierville. I was raised by two great parents and have an awesome sister. I enjoy camping, fishing and anything cooked over a fire pit. I married my high school sweetheart over thirty years ago. Writing short stories about the past in the language I heard as I was growing up has become a passion of mine.


**Featured image from The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics, 1905 – Boston Public Library, Wikimedia, Picryl


  1. I really enjoyed this little story, especially the ending with the close call and Ol’ Pap’s response. I am still chuckling. 🙂

  2. I really liked this story. It really put me in mind of some of the stories my great grandparents used to tell while we sat on their porch.

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